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What Does It Mean To ‘Support’ Israel?

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Israel has no shortage of avowed detractors. It also has many genuinely avid supporters. Even more people and institutions claim to support Israel. But what does supporting Israel really mean?

Sadly, and in many cases insidiously, it means very little. It is the proverbial “talking the talk” without the willingness to “walk the walk.” A recent poll commissioned by The Israel Project illustrates this point: Eighty-two percent of the American Jews who took part in the survey said they support Israel, with most of them characterizing themselves as “strong supporters.” Yet when asked if they engage in conversation about Israel or defend Israel while talking to non-Jews, most of the participants replied negatively.

They talk the talk without walking the walk.

In life, it is always important to know who your real allies are – whom you can count on, who will help and who will not. And you want to know whether your contributions to an ostensibly pro-Israel organization are likely to help Israel’s cause or be used in the service of another agenda.

True, there are many ways one can support Israel, but there are some guidelines that can help us judge whether one is a genuine supporter. What does an individual or organization actually do to support Israel, beyond claiming to be a supporter? If the answer is little or nothing, the verdict is self-evident.

Speech: What does the individual or organization actually say beyond that he or it “supports Israel”? Is it something like “I support Israel but not its government,” or “I support Israel but not the occupation,” or “I support Israel but I want it to change”?

That is not support. It is something in the realm of the double standard. These “supporters” insist on virtual perfection for Israel. According to this mindset, Israel somehow can be supported with reservations, if not downright opposition, appended to the same sentence. It makes as much sense as someone saying “I love that restaurant, but the food is terrible.”

“I support Israel but not its government” is a common refrain, but most of the “supporters” repeating this mantra were saying the same thing of Israel’s previous governments, whether led by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, Menachem Begin, et al.

Contributions and Membership:What groups does the individual support with contributions and membership? Are they organizations that actually work on behalf of Israel? A few that come to mind include Americans for a Safe Israel, CAMERA, Stand With Us, Zionist Organization of America, and Friends of the IDF. Or does the self-described supporter of Israel scorn such groups such as “extremist”?

Contributing to Israeli organizations or institutions that don’t seek to tear down the state – Bar-Ilan University, Magen David Adom, One Family Fund, Shaarei Zedek Hospital, and Palestinian Media Watch, to name a few – is also a mark of a true supporter of Israel.

But what about those “supporters” of Israel for whom non-Israel causes always seem to have a higher priority? Or, worse, what about individuals who are more comfortable with, and even contribute to, organizations with an anti-Israel agenda?

And what do some of the “pro-Israel” organizations do when Israel’s supporters aren’t paying attention? In 2003, a major Jewish organization – one that most of us would no doubt assume exists in order to defend the Jewish people and Israel – devoted its resources to filing a brief in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program.

Many organizations that promote themselves as “supporters of Israel” or “Israel advocates” in fact operate as largely neutral forums for Israel-related programs. They apparently feel compelled to provide a balance of speakers – with some providing an obligatory bashing of Israel – to offset pro-Israel aspects of their programs.

Why is it, one is compelled to ask, that organizations advocating the interests of other ethnic groups, religions, or foreign countries don’t seem compelled to gratuitously invite speakers or authors to bash the very entities these groups represent?

Then there’s the case of America’s largest synagogue movement, the Union for Reform Judaism, representing 900 congregations and 1.5 million followers. In 2004 it actually criticized Congress “for passing one-sided pro-Israel resolutions.” Maybe that’s what “supporting Israel” means to the Union for Reform Judaism.

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